Rome Reforested: The tree as a cure for the urban streetscape

Rome Reforested is a proposal by Bureau B+B to plant 3 million trees in the city of Rome – 1 tree every inhabitant. It is a strategy in which the upcoming mobility transition towards new sustainable models is placed parallel to the gradual development of nature in the city.

Rome is the city of the imagination. Considered a cradle of contemporary culture, the city has played the role of the center of civilization for centuries. With its special history, a fascination for this city can arise from both reason and passion, as millions of people have experienced over the centuries. At the same time, it is also a place where almost 3.0 million people live, work, and want to have the best possible life. In a recent report by the Wuppertal Institute, Rome scored poorly in road safety, mobility management, and active mobility. It also scored below average in air quality and public transportation. In a total comparison of sustainability of transportation for all 13 European capitals that were included, Rome scored last. The report especially commented on Rome’s potential for bicycling and the necessity to create a better infrastructure for slow mobility.

Bureau B+B proposes Rome Reforested – the tree as a cure for the urban streetscape. It is a strategy in which the upcoming mobility transition towards new sustainable models is placed parallel to the gradual development of nature in the city. The idea is to enrich the city with 3 million trees planted along streets in the next decades. Basically one tree per every inhabitant. In comparison: at the moment, Rome has one tree every 10 inhabitants. Increasing the number of trees in the cities territory not only helps to reduce the heat island effect and runoff water in streets and flooding events, but it will also improve the people’s health and wellbeing and will connect the existing green spaces into a green network.

Almost 100 years ago it made sense to welcome the automobile in our cities as much as possible. The democratization of personal mobility gained momentum enabling the growth of prosperity, but this process led to the sacrifice of livability. In the ’70s and 80’s the process of introducing trees to the city was mostly an artistic endeavor. Nowadays the introduction of trees into the city can be scientifically supported. However even if most people agree trees in the city are of great benefit, it is still hard to launch successful initiatives even today.

From a scientific viewpoint, about any negative aspect of urbanization can be countered with the strategic integration of trees. B+B applied this approach to Rome. If we introduce trees in the city we have to start with the most unfeasible current situations in which the automobile has absolute authority over the streets. These are the situations where the biggest difference can be made.
Just imagine the ideal future for those situations. With the expected decline of motorized traffic in the near future, the city can have new street profiles with more space for pedestrians and comfortable places to stay. In order to have the same quality as can be found in our project Mariahilferstrasse in Vienna, these streets need mature trees. As trees grow slowly, and if we want mature trees by that time we have to plant them today.
To introduce trees into the current street profiles, we will have to take space from other uses. In general, the space of one tree equals to one parking spot. We understand how sensitive this change is in a city like Rome, where individual motorized transport is part of people’s identity. Where civic choices in transportation priorities have educated them to choose of motoring instead of walking from location to location. To change people’s minds, we need a very carefully thought out approach. Often designers cannot convince people by a map, a plan, or an abstract representation. As was done during the preparations for the Mariahilferstrasse in Vienna, We believe that people need to truly experience the effect of the upcoming change before it happens, like we demonstrated with the mock-up with our project Mariahilferstrasse in Vienna Making real-life prototypes before the definitive design is finished is the first key to inclusive designing.

The idea for the city of Rome is a long term strategy developed in different phases. The first phase is to start planting trees along the consular roads. These streets are fundamental connections between the inner city and the surrounding areas. They are the most used streets by cars and introducing here trees will have direct benefits on the surrounding; improving the quality of the air, reducing urban heat islands, and mitigating flooding events.

Over 40 years ago, Bureau B + B has profiled itself as a landscaping design agency that wants to play a central role in the urban design process. It is because of this that the office was one of the first in its field to recognize the necessity to do this in a public capacity. Due to our specialization in urban challenges, we built a strong vision on how to deal with areas towards which many people feel a strong commitment.

all images copyrights Bureau B+B

  • Location: Rome, Italië
  • Concept / Vision: 2020